Primal Fear (1996): A Gripping Tale of Accusations, Murder and Justice

Primal Fear (1996) is a film adaptation of William Diehl’s novel; it is a story about an altar boy portrayed by Edward Norton who is allegedly accused with murder of a city archbishop. Richard Gere was the defense attorney who holds his case. Martin Vail (Gere) is a well-known defense attorney in Chicago who seizes the opportunity to represent Aaron Stampler (Norton), a young altar boy who is charged with the city’s archbishop’s murder, in order to get some exposure.

Stampler was caught during a foot chase right after the archbishop’s killing with his clothes drenched in blood.

Frances McDormand (Molly Arlington) is the psychologist who examined Stampler for the court. Stampler stated to be present at the time of the killing of the archbishop, although he declared that someone in the room do the killing whereas he had a blackout or as he says he had a “lost time”. In the beginning Vail was only interested in the publicity and media hype that the case will create in his career, but then as the story goes he is determined to prove that his client is really innocent and above suspicion.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Disorder

star star star star 4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

He also believed that every defendant ought to have an experienced defense just like him.

As the story progresses, Vail happened to get hold of data about the influential community leaders, together with the District Attorney, undergone a real estate investment wherein they lost millions because of the Archbishop who discontinue to develop certain land property of the church.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

And as a result the archbishop constantly received death threats. Vail also discovered that the altar boys, including Stampler were sexually exploited by the archbishop. Together with his (Stampler) girlfriend, Linda, the archbishop told them to have sex while the latter filmed them.

Vail presented this data, along with the video tape as evidence. He figured out that it would create a sympathetic and approving impression to the jury for Stampler and would help them to win the case. However, the trial does not progress agreeably for the defense, since there is substantial proof of evidence against Stampler. In addition, the people judgment considers him roughly without a doubt guilty. On one occasion Vail confronts Stampler and charge him of being a liar, Aaron breaks down and transforms into a new personality who identifies himself as “Roy.

Different from the meek and modest Aaron, Roy is an aggressive individual. He admitted that he is the one who murdered the archbishop and hurls Vail against the wall, that wounded him. Subsequent to the incident, Aaron has no memory of it. The psychiatric specialist examining Aaron’s behavior believes he have a medical condition called multiple personality disorder. However, as they are by currently in the middle of the court case, they cannot change the appeal to not guilty by grounds of insanity. Therefore, Vail makes a decision to put up an argument at the hearing.

When harshly cross-examined by the prosecutor, Janet Venable, who is an ex-girlfriend of Vail, Aaron becomes Roy and attacked at her, threatening to break her neck if anyone approaches him. Court marshals were able to calm Aaron down and returned him back to his cell. From what had happened, Aaron's evident mental illness, which is now apparent to the jury, the judge dismisses the case and ordered that Aaron will be sent to a mental institution wherein he will remain under assessment, and to receive therapy for his illness then will possibly be released in due course.

In the closing scene of the film, Vail went to see Aaron to inform him this information. Aaron remembers nothing of what occurred in the courtroom, experiencing once more "lost time. " After hearing the judge’s decision that he will probably be freed soon, Aaron embraced him with extreme gratefulness. Although, as Vail is on his way out of the cell, Aaron asks him to say to Ms. Venable that he hopes that her neck is okay, which is not what would Aaron be supposed to have remember and recall if he had "lost time. " When Vail took into account what Stampler had said, he questioned the boy about it.

Stampler hesitant at first, begin to clapped his hand and congratulate his lawyer for discovering his secret. He then admits that he was only acting as an insane person right from the start. Aaron/Roy said that there never was an Aaron; he also added that Aaron was his invented persona, and that he is really Roy all along. Stampler further declared to have slaughtered the archbishop, and even Linda, his girlfriend. Taken aback and disappointed from what he heard Vail walks out of the cell room, with Roy nastily annoyed him from his chamber.

The mental disorder that was acted upon by the actor Edward Norton/Aaron Stampler is called Dissociative Personality Disorder or DID. Formerly identified as the Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD, it is referred to as a mental disorder involving dissociation of the self wherein the self becomes divided into two or more distinct personalities each with their separate thoughts, characteristics and memories. As with the movie, Edward Norton possess a second character with whom he called Roy. Alternation of control by the personalities can also be seen in a MPD person.

It is when a bodily control and access to consciousness switches between the personalities, although some may be more dominant than others and thus spend more time in control. In the movie Roy is the dominant personality of Aaron. The identities or personality state, sometimes called alters, self-states, alter identities, or parts, among other terms, differ from one another in that each presents as having its own individuality proportional to the continuing pattern of perception, connecting to, and view about the surroundings and identity.

Amnesia and unconscious barriers between personalities are also apparent. There may be a mutual or one-way lack of conscious awareness and memory access between personalities. Some may experience ‘blackouts’ or lost time when others take control, some can be directly aware of other personalities’ existence, thoughts and memories. In the case of Aaron, he said to his lawyer, Richard Gere/Martin Vail that he was there when the bishop was killed but then he wasn’t able to see the killer because he blacked out and was lost in time.

Clinical manifestations of DID can be perplexing and harrowing for a therapist. Switching of personalities may produce diverse physical appearances such as strikingly different facial expressions; permutations in posture and body language, change in handedness, different hair styles, and reversals in out-ward gender presentation, significant weight gain or loss over short periods of time, and voice changes. Alternate personalities may demonstrate the behaviors that manifest their perceptions of themselves.

They may speak in different accents and even different languages; their handwriting may be different; some may be creative in different arts, others not at all; and some may be male, others female in their self-perceptions, life histories and dress. In Aaron’s case while he was being harshly crossed-examined by the prosecutor Janet Venable/Laura Linney, Roy was able to come out into his personality. His behavior changed from being a meek person into an aggressive individual one.

His tone of voice was loud and angry rather than modest and reserved as what Aaron is. To diagnose a person with a dissociative personality the DSM-IV-TR are used by therapists in order for them to identify if the person really suffers the said mental illness. There should be an existence of two or more distinctive characteristics or personalities; there is also should be at least two of these personalities periodically are in charge of the person’s behavior.

As well as, the inability to remember personal information that cannot be accounted for ordinary forgetfulness and the disturbance is not a cause of physiological results of a substance such as the alcoholic beverages (Kluft & Fine, 1993). Clinical studies report female to male ratios between 5:1 and 9:1 for diagnosed cases. Etiology of this mental illness is strongly linked to severe experiences of early childhood trauma, usually maltreatment and abuses and about 85 to 97 percent of cases are the reported rates of severe childhood trauma.

Physical and sexual abuses are the most frequently reported sources of childhood trauma. In the film, Aaron was sexually abused by the bishop, and he also experienced physical abuses from his father when he was young, which may have been the cause why an alter personality of Roy emerge in time when the bishop was killed. It was further described that dissociation as an unconscious defense mechanism in which a group of mental activities split off from the main stream of consciousness and function as a separate unit.

The purpose of dissociation as what Aaron and Roy did in the film is to take memory or emotion that is associated with a trauma. It is a creative way of keeping the unacceptable out of the picture, it is to keep the secrets and constantly learn to get used to the environment, a lifesaving defense. It also maintains the attachment to the abuser and permit strong, sometimes contradicting, emotions to be kept in separate compartments of the mentality. Many said that DID could be faked, they claimed it is only the way a person will make in order for him to avoid responsibilities and stress.

Evidences stated that some criminal offenders used this mental illness as their defense in order to escape the verdict that the law will give to them, as what Aaron said to Vail. However, a number of studies shown that DID cannot be faked. Wherein, the changes in Aaron to Roy’s persona is hard to act as what S. D. Miller concluded in his study that optical changes, including measures of visual perception, apparent refraction, and eye muscle stability which are unconsciously differ when an alter emerge are hard to fake.

Nowadays, up-to-date EEG and MRI can also be used because it shows the changes in brain function when one personality switches into another. A number of subsequent studies confirm that various alters have unique psychophysiological profiles. Various treatments are now used to cure DID such as Psychotherapy, Cognitive Therapy, Hypnosis, Psychopharmacological Interventions Other therapies are Electroconvulsive Therapy, Group Therapy, and Family Therapy.

Updated: Mar 22, 2023
Cite this page

Primal Fear (1996): A Gripping Tale of Accusations, Murder and Justice. (2016, Oct 31). Retrieved from

Primal Fear (1996): A Gripping Tale of Accusations, Murder and Justice essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment